One season ends and another begins as we roll right into the 106th season of the PGA Tour.
The 2020 Safeway Open is a much weaker field, so we get to break down players we normally don’t get to discuss. Silverado Resort is a par 72 that isn’t particularly difficult and doesn’t offer a lot of variance. Last year, fourth place and 32nd place were separated by just five strokes.
The course isn’t long, featuring eight short par 4s and four reachable par 5s. There are a lot of trees, so being long off the tee is only good if you’re also accurate. The most important factors on this course are:
Strokes Gained: Approach
Greens in Regulation
Putts per Green in Regulation
Strokes Gained: Off the Tee
In other words, we’re going to find guys who are great with their irons and above average off the tee.
PICK TO WIN
We have Si Woo Kim as the favorite to win, but it’s no fun picking a favorite who is also the odds on favorite, so we’ll go a little lower and take Australian Cameron Davis this week.
Davis is a long-hitter, averaging 308 yards off the tee, and an above-average iron player. Additionally, if we look at his data since the restart, his best performances have come on short par 4s, where he gains 0.082 strokes per hole.
Our model gives Davis a 3.6% chance at taking home the trophy.
OTHER FAVORITES WHO COULD TRIUMPH
Not the longest hitter on tour, but Streelman kills it with his irons. He gains 0.688 strokes per round with the irons while also gaining strokes in every other facet of his game. He’ll have some abysmal rounds with his putter, and he’s lost nine strokes with the club in his last two tournaments. But putting is always one of the least sticky statistics, and he has had some good putting rounds since the restart to balance out the recent bad ones.
Burns averages almost 317 yards off the tee, which is among the top five in the field in driving distance. It helps his par 5 performance the most, where he gains 0.130 strokes per hole, while also gaining strokes on every other type of hole. His irons and putting are both average, and if he can keep the ball inbounds, he has the length to contend this weekend.
Not long, but incredibly accurate, Norlander hits the fairway on 71.4% of his tee shots. Where he really shines is with his irons, gaining 0.749 strokes per round by hitting 72.4% of greens. He’s a consistently average to bad putter, but with so many short par 4s, we’re looking for the Swede to stick a bunch of iron shots inside 10 feet. Our model sees his consistency round to round and gives him a whopping 51% chance to finish inside the top 20.
Duncan, almost a statistical carbon copy of Norlander, was one 60-foot Hideki Matsuyama putt away from being a first-round leader two weeks ago at the BMW Championship. He’s a slightly better driver of the golf ball than Norlander, hitting a few more fairways and getting a few yards more of distance, and the tradeoff is his slightly less impressive iron play. He also has a bit more variability than Norlander, and the model gives him a 42% chance to crack the top 20.
Denny McPutts is one of the best putters on tour and his irons have come to life recently, gaining strokes on approach in each of his last four tournaments. The putting will be there, and if the irons stay hot, McCarthy could find his way near the top of the leaderboard.
LONGSHOTS WHO COULD SURPRISE
Merritt doesn’t do anything extraordinary, but he hits a lot of fairways and there’s almost no tradeoff with any other metric. It’s a course fit for Merritt this week, who gains 0.053 strokes per short par 4 – his best hole performance.
Armour, another player who fits the course, is more of a hit-the-fairway guy than he is a hit-it-far guy. He hits 70% of fairways with an average distance of only 289 yards. His putting is above average, his iron play is average, and he gains strokes on short par 4s. All in all, we give him a 61.5% chance to make the cut, which is what you’re hoping for in these long shots in a big field.
Stuard has a similar story as Armour off the tee, but he’s better with his irons and worse with his putter. He hits 67.7% of greens, just above average, while also hitting 71% of fairways. He also gains 0.070 strokes on short par 4s and as a very low variance golfer, is given a huge 71% of making the cut.
Baker is about as average as you’ll find with the driver, but his irons are spectacular. He gains 0.920 strokes per round with the irons while hitting 71.8% of greens. His short game is fairly consistently abysmal, but if the irons are firing he should be able to find some birdies by sticking it close to the pin.
PICK TO WIN THE ANA INSPIRATION
The LPGA is at the Dinah Shore Tournament Course this weekend. It’s a par 72, and like the Safeway Open, is a relatively low variance course. It’s filled with long par 4s and short par 5s, and favors players with some distance off the tee while depressing the importance of putting.
Jodi Ewart Shadoff
We’re picking a surprise for this one. Ewart Shadoff isn’t the longest driver on tour, but she has above average distance at 260 yards per drive. Her biggest skill is her iron play. Ewart Shadoff hits the green 78.2% holes, higher than anyone else in the field. However, she’s below average in both putts per green in regulation and 3-putt %.
OTHERS WHO COULD SHINE
Nanna Koerstz Madsen
Koerstz Madsen is long off the tee at 286.5 yards per drive and hits greens well above the average rate. Like Ewart Shadoff, her putting is usually pretty bad, but her distance and irons should mitigate that deficiency.
Another player who excels with her irons, Sharp hits 73.3% of greens and is above average in both fairways hit and driving distance.
Like our other picks, Delacour excels with her fairways, distance, and irons while struggling with the putter. She’s gained strokes in each of her last three tournaments and could surprise this weekend.
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